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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Twelve Older Anime That Deserve License Rescues: Overkill Part 1

I'm in the midst of watching the subject of the next anime review (it's another recent Right Stuf release), so in the meantime I'll do something that's essentially become a yearly standard on the blog: A license rescue list. This will be the sixth iteration of the original "12 Anime" list, since the first year featured two of them, so I think it's fair enough to say that I might be going into overkill at this point... Either that or I'm just trying too hard to tie in the fact that I've been playing some of the House of the Dead series lately. Regardless, let's check out another twelve anime (& this time I truly mean twelve!) that were once given releases here in North America in the past & could use a re-release.

Either that, or suffer like G did. The choice is yours, after all.

There's usually at least one title that gets me inspired to make a new rescue list, and for this list it was a 90s OVA based on a shonen manga. I've actually been reading the recent prequel manga to Kei Kusunoki's Onikirimaru, known as The Legend of Onikirimaru over at CrunchyRoll, and I've been enjoying it. I've heard of the original Shonen Sunday series but never checked it out before, especially since Viz only released the first two volumes of the manga (out of a total 20), and the 1994-1995 OVA adaptation has only ever been released on dubbed VHS; Viz used the literal translation of Ogre Slayer. For those unfamiliar with Onikirimaru, it follows the life of a nameless boy who's actually a full-blooded demon but looks like a normal human. He has made it his life's mission to kill every single demon that exists in the world, as his eponymous sword is the only thing that can kill his kind. If the original title is anything like the presently-running prequel (which takes place during Japan's various historical eras, detailing the boy's birth & early days), then the story is more or less episodic, with the focus being more on how each demon affects the life of a human who has dark, demonic thoughts. Personally, I'm fine with that concept, but I can see where others might prefer a more serialized story.

The OVA by OB Planning & Pastel only lasted four episodes & features a staff that isn't exactly notable, but whatever talk I could find about it wasn't negative by any means. Viz brought it over across two VHS tapes in the late-90s & the dub was done by The Ocean Group, starring Jason Gray-Stanford (Yusaku in Maison Ikkoku, Lt. Randy Disher in Monk) as the nameless lead. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, Viz never seemed to release a subbed VHS, and a DVD re-release never happened; Japan received a DVD release in 1999, just barely after Viz's VHS release. I actually really wouldn't mind watching this OVA series, and the original Japanese audio has since been fansubbed, but I'm the kind of guy who wouldn't mind checking out the English dub alongside the Japanese, and I really would like to stop having to buy VHS tapes in order to check these old dubs out. A license rescue for Onikirimaru, complete with a dual-audio DVD release, would be pretty awesome. In the meantime, I'll keep reading Kusunoki's prequel via CrunchyRoll, though being bimonthly kind of sucks.

When I first started getting into anime back in 2004 I remember there being a bit of talk for 3x3 Eyes, both in the original manga form as well as the OVAs from the 90s. Running from 1987-2002 & lasting 40 volumes, Yuzo Takada's manga about the last remaining Sanjiyan (a race of 3-eyed immortals) & her journey to achieve mortality alongside her undead partner inspired two sets of OVAs. The first came out from 1991-1992 & lasted four episodes, while the second (subtitled Seima Densetsu/Legend of the Divine Demon) came out from 1995-1996 & was three episodes long. The first OVA sries was originally dubbed & released onto VHS by Streamline Pictures back in the 90s, and when Orion Pictures worked with Streamline for the second OVA series most of the original cast was reunited; sadly, the last episode never came out over here (though the UK & Australia may have gotten it). Not long after Streamline's death in 1999, though, Pioneer Entertainment rescued it & gave both OVA series a brand new dub by New Generation Pictures. Interestingly enough, NGP decided to cast this second dub with a lot of actors who were known by many as the cast of Disney's Gargoyles, which was more than likely done on purpose, I'd say. After an initial complete collection release in 2001, the then-later-renamed Geneon re-released both OVA series individually in 2007.

The original Streamline release & first Pioneer collection were released while Dark Horse was serializing the manga in its Super Manga Blast magazine, which is a big part of why 3x3 Eyes was such a notable name in my early days as an anime fan. Since then the title has more or less gone into obscurity, with the only real bit of recent talk about it being a Pile of Shame article from Justin Sevakis a year ago. I do recall watching the OVAs about 10 years ago, though I can't say if I only saw the entire thing or only the first series; I do remember enjoying it, though. In the years since the Geneon re-release the OVAs have received a Blu-Ray release in Japan, so I'd say that these OVAs are in an ideal position to be rescued at this time. I could definitely see a company like Discotek pick this up, use the BD masters for improved video, & include both the Streamline & NGP dubs for posterity. I certainly wouldn't mind giving this a re-watch, especially since I never heard the dubs before (hell, I didn't even know of the first dub until the Pile of Shame article).

On last year's list I included Kishin Douji Zenki, and old CPM & Media Blasters series of releases, and in that entry I mentioned another show from Enoki Films' vault; it's time to cover it now. 1999's Gokudo-kun Manyuki/Gokudo's Vast Journey, also known simply as Gokudo, was a 26-episode TV series from Trans Arts based on the manga by Takeru Kirishima & Usagi Nakamura that ran from 1991-1999. It told to adventures of Gokudo, an adventurer who only has two goals in life: Money & Women. Along with a gender-changing genie, a demon prince, & a girl who can dish out the same verbal pain that our lead loves to throw down, Gokudo goes on a series of journeys filled with battle, treasure, women, & even the occasional gender bend. Oddly enough, while I haven't seen Gokudo yet, its lead reminds me of another show I've been meaning to check out, Jibaku-kun -Twelve World Story-. That show's lead, Baku, was more or less very similar to Gokudo in that he came off like an absolute asshole who treats his companions like slaves, though therein seems to lie a lot of the comedy, as both leads aren't exactly able to completely match their respective egos. I guess that was just a thing back in the late-90s, right?

Media Blasters released Gokudo on both DVD & VHS from 2001-2002, followed by a complete DVD collection in 2003, but since then the series more or less dropped off the face of the Earth. Being a part of MB's deal with Enoki Films, it was at the mercy of how long that deal would last, and when that deal ended around the time of the complete collection, Gokudo quickly became somewhat rare. The collection now easily goes for over $100, while the six single DVDs range wildly, with some being as cheap as a few bucks (Volumes 1 & 4) & others being $25 (Volumes 3 & 5) or even $50 (Volumes 6)! It's sad to see that this series has become as expensive as it is now, because I've generally heard praise for this show's humor, with it often being compared to Slayers but with a bit more of an attitude. Sadly, titles under the Enoki Films banner seem to be on a "Don't Touch" list for licensing companies, outside of a couple of exceptions (i.e. Slayers & Utena, to count two). Whether that will change one day is yet to be seen, but for now it looks like Gokudo will remain just as treasured as the actual items its lead wants to be bathed in.

Also, brownie points for having an ending theme that doubles as an amazing alarm clock chime, which a friend of mind can vouch for. "Wake Up! Wake Up! Wake Up, Wake Up! Wake Up! Wake Up, Wake Up!"

[8/2016 UPDATE: As part of their working relationship with Enoki Films, Discotek has rescued Gokudo & will releasing a complete DVD set this September]

It's a little disheartening that anime license rescues focus on the beloved & critical darlings, even though there are plenty of titles out there that aren't exactly "good" by any means, yet can be just as beloved because of how bad they are. Discotek Media has given the idea of rescuing "So Bad It's Good" anime a try a couple of years ago with Mad Bull 34 on dual-audio DVD, and you can also include the Violence Jack OVAs as well, but that's really all there is to that extent. While I'm not exactly saying that we should see stuff like the Panzer Dragoon OVA or AWOL -Absent WithOut Leave- be given new releases, because those are just bad, I admittedly wouldn't think badly of a company that decides to re-release something as enjoyably bad as Garzey's Wing. For this list's "So Bad It's Awesome" entry, however, I'm going to go with one that isn't as infamous as that Dunbine spin-off, and that's a shame because it deserves to be more well known.

I reviewed Kindan no Mokushiroku Crystal Triangle back in September of 2012, and it absolutely blew me away. The story of an Indiana Jones knock-off who goes on a journey to locate the lost 11th Commandment of God in order to save the world from being destroyed by a giant asteroid that's on a collision course with Earth, all the while having to fend off the KGB, CIA, & even monsters, was so astonishingly ridiculous, insane, & downright dumb that it still remains one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had watching anime. You can tell that the staff behind this feature-length OVA from 1987, comprised mostly of people who worked on Dancougar, reached for the stars & wanted to include as much crap as they possibly could, because they obviously ended up touching the Sun & burned away all logic that could have existed. This is simply a fun anime to watch & so much of it will just stay with you after it's over; you'll never look at God the same way again. In my review I covered that CPM released this on VHS & LD in 1993, but incorrectly stated that it never saw a DVD release in Japan; it did see one in 2002 by SME Visual Works (now known as Aniplex). If this was via video I would say to look me straight in my eyes, because I'm dead serious... Someone needs to license rescue Crystal Triangle.

Would it be considered cheating to include something that only saw release internationally in the UK as a license rescue? Yes? Too bad, because I'm still counting it!

Anime based on video games used to be a lot less common until late-night became the de facto replacement for OVAs; since then there seems to be at least one game-based anime on TV every season. Before that, most of these products were released straight-to-video as part of the OVA market, with the usual stigma being that they tended to suck, because they either were too unwelcoming to those not familiar with the games they were based on, or because they focused too much on including everything from the games. I'd argue that the three-episode Salamander OVA from 1987-1989 was one of those exceptions, however. Based on three entries of Konami's legendary Gradius series of shoot-em-ups (specifically Salamander/Life Force, Gradius, & Gradius II -Gofer no Yabou-), Salamander was about three pilots from the planet Gradius, plus Ike Lord British of planet Latis, taking on the Bacterian when their respective planet's Moai guardians are destroyed. Being based on a shooter franchise, the OVA was able to come up with its own story & characters instead of focusing on simply pleasing fans of the games with blatant fanservice. Granted, fanservice was still there, but it was more subtle than you'd think, like having some songs from the games being re-arranged in the soundtrack or utilizing actual stage layouts when the characters are considering their attack plan. Sure, the story wasn't mind-blowing by any means, but it was still well done & everything looked really nice (direction by the late Hisayuki Toriumi & character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto certainly helped, too).

Sadly, the only release this OVA had outside of Japan was in Great Britain by way of Western Connection, a company that was only in the anime business because it was starting to become notable in the country at the time (i.e. the early 90s). Pretty much nothing WC ever released was handled well, & Salamander was no different; at least it didn't get a notoriously horrible dub, like The Enemy's the Pirates did. The bootleg HK DVD that's out there likely just ripped WC's subs, as the translation was fine but featured many missing lines & some awkward timing. Sadly, that bootleg is the only actual DVD release of this OVA, as even Japan hasn't had any sort of re-release after the initial VHS & LD releases. In Japan this was part of the Konami Video Collection, so there's a good chance that Konami itself may be what's been holding a re-release back. Regardless, I would love to see this OVA be given a second chance for an English release, this time being made available to more than just our cousins from across the pond.

Once upon a time there was a company named ADV Films, and they were considered one of the biggest names in the North American anime industry. It was a monument of a company, and one day a Japanese company named Sojitz made a deal with ADV. Sojitz would help pay for numerous anime licenses, & ADV would have some serious backing. Unfortunately, the North American anime bubble burst, and Sojitz didn't want to have anything to do with its partner... So it outright left ADV & gave all of its acquired licenses to rival company FUNimation. Nowadays, ADV exists more or less in name only, a husk of its former glory.

Okay, this is admittedly a very abridged take on what really happened, but the reason I bring this up is because I've never included an ADV/Sojitz release on these lists before, so I wanted to get that history out the way first. So what's the lesson we've learned here? Simple: Egao de Cash, or Money brings smiles.

ADV was, to its credit, a company that was always willing to look at potential licenses based on their concepts & ideas, instead of always looking just at what would make money. In the days where downloading torrents was the way to stay current, a company like FUNimation would mainly pick up what was being fansubbed & seemingly popular. ADV, while also doing that, would also occasionally pick up titles that seemingly no one was fansubbing; the titles that everyone ignored. This was done twice in 2006, with one of them being 009-1, a title I hold very dear, but since that title is still relatively cheap to pick up today, I'll instead talk about another little gem that would have otherwise been ignored if not for ADV: Oroshitate/The Freshly Grated Musical Nerima Daikon Brothers.

Yes, you read that title right, because this is an outright TV anime musical. It follows a trio of singers called the Nerima Daikon Brothers, even though one of them is a girl, & their constant attempts to earn tons of cash so that they can build a dome stadium in their hometown of Nerima so that they can perform on stage. Featuring direction by comedy genius Shinichi Watanabe (a.k.a. Nabeshin), the show was filled with zany humor, wacky hijinks, catchy musical numbers (even if they do end up repeating as the show goes on), & Nabeshin's animated self always giving the "Brothers" some sort of wild solution to their dilemma for no other reason than because he likes them. It's a show I've really been meaning to go back to one day, because there really isn't much out there in anime like Nerima Daikon Brothers. ADVs original release of the show is seemingly all over the place in terms of pricing, making hard to properly value, though the thinpak release from 2008 (which I own) goes for over $100 now, easily. FUNi only gave it one re-release, under its S.A.V.E. brand, back in 2009, and even that's starting to go up price; it's cheapest is at ~$35 or so now, but it will only go up. While this isn't exactly a high-priority rescue for me, personally, I still feel it would be great to see Nerima Daikon Brothers back in print. I feel like I owe it to Nabeshin for some reason...

Anime Boston 2013, baby!
That's six titles down, with another six to go. Check back in a few days for Part 2, where I talk about more anime that should be brought back from the dead. After all, I don't care if you people try to get in my way or not. In time you'll find out who's right...


  1. Oh Nerima Daikon Brothers. That dub is a marvel - not only did they do a good job rewriting the songs into English, but all the mains could actually sing. Where else will you find a show where a man sings a love song to a panda?

    1. Haven't really seen any of the dub, but I've heard lots of praise for it. It's definitely something I'd check out whenever I finally give the show another watch.